PCT Day 111: Alpine Lakes Wilderness

August 10

Mile 2390.6-2412.1 (21.5)

I was up late listening to pop music blasting from a car stereo. I woke early anyway. I’d really hoped the weather would lift, but if anything the fog hung heavier. When the diner opened I sat by the window with my coffee and stared out into the fray sky. Today’s hike was supposed to be spectacular. I really wanted to see it. If the weather continued to be bad, though, I thought about taking the Goldmyer alternate.

I ate breakfast and watched the weather. It was subtle, but there seemed to be a slight change. I was going to stick to the PCT and hope for good views.

I couldn’t see anything on the climb out of town, but the rich green forest was so lovely. Toward the top the forest dropped away and rocks and scree stood in their stead. I crossed the catwalk and stood for a while, watching fog blow across the sky, imagining what existed underneath. I’ll have to come back another day.

I saw some pretty lakes from the ridge, then nothing. Big empty space where views once were. It was steep and rocky and I felt slow, clumsy. My stomach ached from trail food. Coffee wore off.

Then I crested the ridge and hiked below the fog, watched it spill down the mountain behind me. Sun! Distant mountains! I had out hiked the clouds, just barely. They flooded the valley behind me. But I was warm and dry and felt much better. I started a long descent that I took my time on, just to pick huckleberries. My fingers are stained purple again.

I hiked until late, past sunset and toward dark. I was aiming for a campsite by a big creek, and when I got there another tent was set up. A young couple were camping with their dog and their baby girl. As I set up camp for the night, I could hear soft lullabies coming from their tent. A half moon hung in the sky overhead.


PCT Day 110: Snoqualmie Pass

August 9

Mile 2361.6-2390.6 (29.0)

It was quiet when I woke up. No rain! I sat up and ate bars in my tent, still wrapped in my sleeping bag, then slowly packed up. It was dark and foggy out and felt like early morning when I started hiking at 6:45am.

Th trail climbed. I passed Nobody’s Friend, who I camped with last night, as I charged up the steep switchbacks. I saw huckleberries lining the trail and ate handfuls. Fresh food! It was a bright spot in a cool and gray morning.

At the ridge, I realized the white noise I’ve been hearing is the highway below. How awful to hear the hum of cars so far in the distance. I guess the bad weather keeps the birds from chirping. I would rather hear the cold wind, the rush of streams, even the patter of rain.

Caffeine and berries kept me feeling good all morning. My legs felt pretty good and my foot had recovered from yesterday’s misery. There was only ever the lightest of drizzles. I was warm enough to take off my jacket and warm shirt.

Toward midday I saw patches of blue sky. I hurried to keep up with them, to feel sun on my skin. It was fleeting, but I managed two bright minutes of sun. Dark clouds rolled through and stole it. I kept hiking.

The trail was steep with lots of elevation change. At times it reminded me of the AT. Am I back in Maine in late June, just out of college and pack heavy with books? Am I in Virginia in a rainstorm, Pat and I deciding whether or not to head to town to dry off? My knees were taking a pounding, but my body remembered what to do. Keep hiking. Down the wicked descents, up the muddy climbs, past the crystal clear lakes.

A few miles from town, the roar of traffic got louder and I could see cars in the distance. The huckleberries and blueberries kept me entertained. The rain picked up slightly, so I hustled to get to shelter. I passed a pretty meadow and a small shining lake. Then I was spit out onto a ski slope with roads and buildings below.

I made my way to the Aardvark and am I ever glad I did. I ate tasty salmon dinner and met Toast, who hiked last year, and her partner. When I went to pay for my dinner, I found out they had already covered it. And Toast gave me new socks! It was the most magical stop. Dan, the owner, was more than kind and made me feel more than welcome. What a great place.

PCT Day 109: Can’t Escape the Rain in Washington

August 8

Mile 2331.6-2361.6 (30.0)

I woke many times in the night. My cramped body needed to shift positions constantly, always avoiding the puddles in my tent. Marmots called out to each other. The rain thundered.

It was quiet when I got up. It was still misty and wet but there was a break in the rain. My sleeping bag was damp but had dried a bit overnight. My shirt and jacket had dried, too. My pack, sleeping bag, and ground cloth were really wet. I started packing up.

There was a shelter 13 miles away, and I knew I could hunker down there if the weather got worse. Maybe there would be a fire and I could dry out my gear. I walked toward that vision. Keep going, don’t stop.

It rained off and on. The forest was so quiet. I passed very few people. I saw very little beyond the wall of fog.

I got to the shelter and saw it was empty. I had nothing to start a fire with. I layed out my gear hoping it might dry a little anyway. I sat on the porch eating dried strawberries and mixed nuts and thought about what to do.

In half an hour, I packed everything up and started hiking again. I hoped to get to Snoqualmie Pass tomorrow. I had to get in some more miles today to make that possible.

My feet ached a little. I missed the scenery. The conifers were pretty in a dark and serious way. Small birds fluttered around. The quiet weighed me down.

More rain. I counted down the miles. I wasn’t drinking much water but stopped anyway to fill a liter and chug it down. It’s always harder to keep drinking when it’s raining. Rain let up. I ate some snacks. I tripped on a loose rock, banged up my toe. I saw a precious spot of blue sky in the distance, then I climbed up into a denser cloud. It rained hard for a minute, then returned to misting.

I was glad when I got to camp. If the weather had been good I would have kept hiking. But all I wanted to do now was curl up and go to sleep.

PCT Day 108: Chinook Pass

August 7

Mile 2306.1-2331.6 (25.5)

I saw a dense cloud rolling down into the valley where I was camped. Thinking it might be the forecasted rain, I packed up immediately and ate breakfast as I hiked. Worth it to have a dry tent and sleeping bag.

I wasn’t hiking very fast, though. The fog cut me off from my surroundings. I climbed up through the quiet forest. I passed boundary signs for Mt. Rainier National Park. I wondered if there was stunning scenery beyond the clouds.

I passed Dewey Lake, so beautiful and clear even in the dull wet light. If it had been warmer, it would have been nice to swim. As it was, it was cold and there were dozens of day hikers around. I saw more and more as I climbed up a small mountain and then started the mild descent to Chinook Pass. It started to drizzle.

I bet there were a hundred cars parked at Chinook Pass. More day hikers clustered at Sheep Lake. I took a break by the water. The crowds, the weather, and stuff from home was turning me into a ball of stress and anxiety. I wanted to charge up the mountain, take on the scree and the steepness, hike until dark–but I felt so out of it, sort of trapped.

All I could do was hike on slowly. I went through a pass and got hit with a blast of wind and drizzly rain. I had cell phone reception so I scanned craigslist for apartments. I texted Pat, checked the weather, convinced myself that I should keep hiking. The reception wasn’t strong enough to get a weather report. I guessed the clouds weren’t going to clear, the rain would start soon, and it would be cold.

And that’s what happened. The rain came down hard sometimes, misted or drizzled lightly sometimes. Every mile I sought shelter under dense coniferous boughs, collected myself, kept hiking. I got cold. I camped at the next site. My hands fumbled with the buckles on my pack. Everything was wet. The site I found became a lake after another hour of rain. My ground cloth soaked through, my pack soaked through. My sleeping bag sopped up the puddles. I tried to get to sleep quickly.

PCT Day 107: White Pass

August 6

Mile 2279.8-2306.1 (26.3)

Dragged myself out of bed at hiker noon (7am). Town food, my usual motivator, wasn’t calling to me. My food bag is still heavy and my appetite is down. I crave salty and savory flavors. Vegetables. Red meat.

It was a chilly morning. I seemed to walk into a light mist that clung to the tree tops above me and gathered in the valley below. I was thirsty, since I didn’t drink any of the water with the swimmers in it from the pond. A small stream appeared, and two French women caught up to me.

A mile later, I started climbing. I came upon a deer with little antlers sprouting out of its head. It didn’t startle, just seemed curious. It turned to run, then looked back at me, turned again and stared at me. I talked to it for a while, then gently shooed it away so I could pass. This type of interaction with deer has happened many times now. I wonder if they are curious about my food or my smell.

The climb brought me up to a pretty ridge with another impressive view of Mt. Rainier. On the other side was a glittering lake and more mountains. I could have stayed up there forever. I lingered, talked to day hikers and a section hiker, made my way along the ridge slowly. I wasn’t in any rush. I thought about when I would bring Pat up here, how much he would love it.

Then the trail angled down. I skirted the mountain, plunged back into the forest. Five miles later, I was at White Pass.

I got my giant resupply box (what was I thinking!) and a coffee and sat down to charge my phone and try to eat down my resupply. McGuyver, Flyy, Grey Squirrel, two southbounders and I took over one side of the gas station store. The two French section hikers appeared and I asked them if I could take a shower in their room. They very graciously handed over the key and I scrubbed a week’s worth of dirt and sweat and grime off. I felt so much better afterward.

Back to the trail around 3pm, hoping to get some more miles in. Dozens of horses and their riders were in the trail. Every five minutes I stepped aside to let a train of 2-6 horses by. So much horse shit.

Afternoon’s miles blended together: flat, forested, pretty lakes and murky ponds. I found a nice campsite by the Bumping River. A hunter and his dog made a fire nearby. There is a little meadow tucked in between the hillsides next to the river, tall trees scattered about. So lovely, so peaceful.

PCT Day 106: Knife’s Edge

August 5

Mile 2247.0-2279.8 (32.8)

The first few miles of trail this morning were choked with hikers. One southbounders told me he had seen ten nobos in the last hour. Where did all these people come from?

I passed two older ladies, then a couple. The trail was smooth and shaded. There were a few mosquitos out, just extra motivation to keep moving. I filled up on water at a small stream. Washington’s ponds are small, muddy, and low. I like clear and cold water when I can get it.

The forested morning slowly gave way to views as the afternoon progressed. First, the hills behind me. I climbed higher and Mt. Adams peaked out. I hiked up and over Cispus Pass, which was stunning. Deep valleys, carved mountains, everything exposed. On the other side of the pass, the landscape turned green and stoney. Streams cascaded down the steep slope until little waterfalls and clear pools developed. I could see Mt. St. Helena to the southeast.

The high point of the day was in the late afternoon. I climbed up toward Old Snowy Mountain, the whole blue ocean of minor mountains below me. Mt. Rainier to the east, presiding over the whole scene. I took the alternate, the old PCT that climbs up and over the new stock route, for bonus views. 

I could see for miles. I could see the Knife’s Edge to my immediate north, the narrow path kicked into a pile of scree that clings to the mountainside. I could see the rest of Washington, the deep forests and alpine lakes and steep mountains that would keep me company in this last stretch. I could see the monument, the Canadian border, Manning Park and the bus ride to Vancouver. I knew if I looked south I would see Campo and Pat and giardia and hikers napping in the shade, rattlesnakes and cowboy camping and windmills, high mountain passes and microspikes tracks and raging creeks, and the rest of the long solo trek to where I am now.

I sat down for the first time all day. I ate some chocolate, some almonds, drank some water. Took it all in. Put my pack back on and kept hiking.

The Knife’s Edge was windy and exciting. My mind was clear, my legs were tired. I kept surfing on the sandy descents and catching myself at the last second.

A few more miles past meltwater streams and colonies of freestanding tents and I finally set up camp at a murky pond back in the forest. 

PCT Day 105: Trout Lake

August 4

Mile 2226.5-2247.0 (20.5)

I slept past 7am then packed up and walked to the road. No cars passed. The road was totally quiet.

Finally I saw a car coming from the opposite direction. The pulled over and hikers spilled out. The driver said he could take me back to town. He dropped me off at the cafe when I got to work on a plate of sausage, eggs, and toast.

I thought I needed to wait until the post office opened at 9:30am to get my package, but it was at the grocery store all along. Pretty hard to get back to the trail after lingering for a while. I talked with Nemo, got my box, saw Man in Black and Flyfish and two other hikers. Lunch?

It was super tempting but my food bag was heavy and I wanted to hike. I hitched for 15 minutes and the second car that passed me pulled over. It was a guy who was going to climb Mt. Adams and was stoked to hear I was hiking the PCT. He drove me all the way back to the trailhead even though it was not where he was going.

The trail climbed for six miles around the base of Mt. Adams. It started in the forest, passed through a large burn area, and settled into a rocky and green landscape with lots of conifers and glacial runoff. I felt sleepy and yawned during the whole climb. Took a short break on a shady rock and ate a whole bag of dried mango before the biting flies drove me back to the trail. 

I saw my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier. Such a beautiful mountain. With the sun just so, it looks like an island surrounded by the blue waves of lesser mountains. I couldn’t help but stare.

I was feeling good now but running short on daylight. I started a very gradual descent to Lava Spring, where there was a big tentsite. The water bubbles out of lava rocks next to the trail and collects in a man-made pool, clear and cold and refreshing. There are a few other tents but everyone except McGuyver and Speed seemed to be asleep.

PCT Day 104: I Could Hike Forever

August 3

Mile 2190.5-2226.5 (36.0)

Hiking by 6:45am, two miles to a slow piped spring. An easy climb up the side of a mountain, expansive views. Mt. Hood to the south, layers of anonymous mountains, Mt. Adams in view to the northeast.

Through the forest to muddy ponds and colorful lakes. Mosquitos come out, persuade me to keep hiking, only stop to get water. Flat trail, soft and cruisey, vaguely downhill. Lots of southbounders, some stop to chat.

Trail feels quiet and peaceful. At 6pm I come upon a packed campground, nobos and sobos colliding, a dozen hikers clustered. I stay for a minute but keep hiking. Just before dark, I reach the road to Trout Lake and set up camp.

PCT Day 103: Woke up in a Cloud

August 2

Mile 2159.3-2190.5 (31.2)

Fat raindrops fell on my face around midnight. I was up immediately to set up my tent. A big cloud had rolled in and engulfed me, misting everything and moving quickly toward rain. My sleeping bag was already damp, but I managed to keep it from getting soaked. For the rest of the night, my sleep was punctuated by the drumming of rain on my tent.

I woke at 5:30 but went back to sleep when I heard rain. I slept another hour before moving toward permanent wakefulness. I started hiking pretty late. The wet cloud disappeared as I descended. Grey skies and dry ground down in the valley.

The forest was so green and beautiful. Almost like I could hear things growing. I listened to a great radiolab podcast yesterday about networks of fungi under the forest floor that facilitate the sharing of food and resources. I thought about this relationship as I walked, imagining the vast network of roots and fungi beneath my feet. The trail was soft and loamy. Pines and ferns surrounded me. It was very quiet.

I passed Rock Creek and Snag Creek and dirt roads and smaller streams. I climbed 1500 feet to another ridge and followed it for two miles before descending back all the way down. When I look at an elevation profile, the climbs and descents seem arbitrary, so I have to picture my line of travel in the context of the landscape. Like the children’s game: can’t go under it, can’t go around it, gotta go over it!

It rained on me briefly on the ridge, bur by the afternoon I saw short glimpses of blue sky. Not quite enough to dry my tent and sleeping bag, but enough to feel good. There was a long flat section down at 1000ft elevation and I cruised along. When I hit the last long climb of the day, I tackled it steadily, stretching my legs and pumping my trekking poles. 

I followed a ridge and nearly stopped early at a lovely campsite on an exposed ledge. It was windy but had sweeping views to the south. I paused for a moment, then continued on. I felt good, the temperature was cool, and it would be nice to get another three miles in. I hiked for an hour then set up camp at a site with a few tents already sprinkles about. Talked with So Far and So Good for a while, then bed.

PCT Day 102: Washington

August 1

Mile 2121.4-2159.3 (18.9 +15.5 via Eagle Creek Trail)

I woke up feeling so good. Mt. Hood in front of me, glowing in the pre-dawn light. I packed up quickly and hiked out on the loamy trail. It felt just like last night, breezy and very quiet. 

I took the Eagle Creek Trail alternate. Went down a steep dirt path for a few miles until I hit Eagle Creek. So many waterfalls, swimming holes. High Tunnel Falls the obvious highlight. I rounded the corner and stood in awe.

The number of day hikers increased as I got closer to the road. The Gorge Trail led me to a paved road that was considered a scenic highway in the very early days of automobiles. Vastly prettier than the new highway.

Then I was in Cascade Locks, staring at the wide and mighty Columbia River and the big metal Bridge of the Gods. I got lunch and coffee before I crossed over to Washington. Belly full, I walked to the toll booth and asked if I could cross. The bridge is narrow and has no pedestrian crossing. As I crossed, I looked at the river below me through the wide metal grates. It was windy and I held onto my hat.


I crossed the road and found the trail again. Everything was green and rich, dazzling. My last state! These beautiful mountains! I felt giddy.

I made my way up and up and up, feeling no rush. I had my sights set on another peaceful ridge campsite and plenty of time to get there before dark. I marveled at the new conifers and ate blackberries and raspberries.

There was someone at the campsite, but they were amenable to my cowboy camping in a nearby semi-flat spot. He was soon asleep and I stretched and stared off at the dusky horizon, the dark colors of sunset, the emerging stars.